The Taliban’s Qatar Office: Are Prospects for Peace Already Doomed?

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EPA

A security guard stands outside the Afghan Taliban Political Office after the official opening, in Doha, Qatar, 18 June 2013.

As far as diplomatic prospects go, the omens don’t augur well. On Tuesday, the Afghan Taliban announced the opening of their first political office in the Qatari capital, Doha. They cut a ribbon, played their anthem, hoisted the Taliban flag and signaled their readiness to meet for talks with foreign delegations, including U.S. officials, whose government is clearly itching for a way out of its 12-year Afghan imbroglio. Not long thereafter, though, a Taliban attack on Bagram air base left four U.S. soldiers dead.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not at all pleased with the Taliban office’s Doha unveiling, seeing it as a challenge to Kabul’s legitimacy. Despite long-standing Afghan government demands, the insurgent militia has so far refused to accept the Afghan constitution. The Taliban’s elaborate opening ceremony, the raising of their own flag and their rhetorical invocation of the Islamic Emirate — a term that, among other things, gestures to the state they ran when in control of much of Afghanistan before 2001 — seemed to suggest the Doha office was an embassy of an alternative government rather than a front for Afghan reconciliation.

(MORE: Talking With the Taliban)

Karzai summarily dismissed the notion of attending talks in Doha and, for good measure, also suspended planned discussions with the Americans on a security pact elaborating Washington’s involvement after the official 2014 withdrawal of international forces. He blamed the U.S. for allowing the Taliban to stage such triumphant agitprop in Qatar: “The way the Taliban office was opened in Qatar and the messages which were sent from it was in absolute contrast with all the guarantees that the United States of America had pledged,” read a statement from Karzai’s office.

U.S. officials, desperate for the prospect of talks not to collapse, are scrambling to soothe Kabul’s rage, according to the New York Times. Plans for the Taliban office in Doha — advanced both by Qatar’s Emir and the U.S. — have been an open secret for months, even as hostilities raged in Afghanistan and Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers continued to penetrate some of the most fortified areas of Kabul. Despite the violence, the need for a peace process that could bring stability to war-ravaged Afghanistan has remained imperative throughout. In tackling the Taliban, American and NATO officials know there can be no decisive military solution. And there are signs as well that, unlike the warlords of the 1990s, the current Taliban leadership knows it will be unable to oust the government in Kabul.

A Taliban commander operating in Afghanistan’s Kunar province spoke to a TIME contributor in Pakistan of his cohorts’ war weariness. “Though there are some internal differences among the Taliban, all the groups are in favor of talks as they have become exhausted of fighting,” he says.

If formal negotiations begin, at least between U.S. officials and the Taliban, it’s clear what would be first on the agenda: the rumored return of a number of Taliban fighters currently languishing in Guantánamo Bay, perhaps in exchange for the last remaining American prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier believed to be in the hands of the notorious militant Haqqani network. In an encouraging sign, the Haqqanis have overcome internal divisions within the Taliban and lent their support to the formation of the Taliban office.

But as the current climate shows, those confidence-building steps are meaningless as long as Kabul sits on the sidelines — let alone other key regional players in Pakistan and Iran. Some of the more pessimistic analysts of the region see the unraveling of the Afghan state as a fait accompli, no matter what forced diplomatic arrangements Washington pushes through. While on tour in Germany, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged the delicate choreography and difficulty of the transition to talks: “We had anticipated at the outset that there were going to be some areas of friction, to put it mildly, in getting this thing off the ground.”

MORE: NATO Hands Over Control to Afghan Forces as U.S. Plans Talks With the Taliban

52 comments
Bob McDonald
Bob McDonald

Scope or arrest another leaked secret here?

Shahzad Mehr
Shahzad Mehr

not supported by Pakistan... Pakistan has its own concerns for not supporting these talks

Abidsaeed Mirza
Abidsaeed Mirza

Pakistan is most effecting country of the world because of Terrorism after 9/11 not India.

Kyah H Wee
Kyah H Wee

June 21st, 2013, Friday 10:00 pm The world famous the Time Magazine (Vol 182. no 1. July 1st) is released with cover photo of Venerable Ashin Wirathu (Myanmar) who is one of our Buddhists' three precious jewels: Buddha, Dhama (Buddha's Teachings), Sanga (Monks) by accusing him as a Buddhist terrorist. It described him with the comparison of world destroyer Osama Bin Laden. We strongly objected that magazine and rejected without any exception unanimously. We admitted that Ashin Wirathu adores his race and religion so much. However, he is not the Buddhist terrorist leader who jeopardizes the peace in the region. He is not the extremist who destroys the lives, housing, and properties of the people. We all believe that he is neither the one who instructed to massacre the people of other religions, nor the one who destroyed buildings as radical movements. There is no connection of any co-operation with any drastic actions. In Buddhist history, our Buddha himself is triumphant against any hostile attacks by showing loving kindness. Similarly, true Sangas (monks) always saved and rescued our race, religion, and country throughout Myanmar history in accordance with loving kindness. We assumed that the article in the Time Magazine is making people misjudge one religion to another, and is making Buddhism diminished. Therefore, we Myanmar strongly rejected the Time magazine with the cover photo of Venerable Ashin Wirathu that is released in Asia, Europe, Middle East and Africa. We strongly request for clarification by the responsible persons of the magazine in accordance with the rules of media conduct. ---On behalf of all Myanmar Buddhists ---ASHIN SANDAZAWTEET(Tharthanarnwe) ---Officer incharge for literature ---HEETTADARA FOUNDATION ---Mon State,MYANMAR.

Omar Junaid Vicente
Omar Junaid Vicente

Why do I get this feeling that I'm playing Command & Conquer: Generals...for real? :(

michael.f.passe
michael.f.passe

Americans need to understand what a golden opportunity this is. People don't get it because of our macho (and failed) stance on foreign policy in the Middle East, and most other places. ANY inroads into propping up a legitimate political wing of groups like Hamas or even those scurvy Taliban is a major step in the right direction. Well, it is if you want peace anyway. Lots of people - here, in Israel, and amongst Islamists, don't want peace. But just look at what a difference it made to recognize Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland; it may be a rocky peace there, but it's peace, the first they had known in many decades. Any legitimate negotiation wing of a "terrorist" organization is helpful and should be supported and propped up. Because of that, we should do whatever we can possibly do to keep these talks alive.

SteveRedmond
SteveRedmond

The essential question is whether the tail wags the dog or is the dog going to wag the tail. Getting hooked up to Karzai was one of the biggest blunders in US policy in the last quarter of century. He seems to be bipolar with  outbursts that are inexplicable. To say he is unreliable is an understatement. Where is the world do we dredge up such partners?  We must have a self-defeating personality disorder.

eespinoza214
eespinoza214

Where are the drones when you really need them?

Vipul Tripathi
Vipul Tripathi

People of Afganistan is important to the rest of world....these cowards living here understood it....better join ordinary people of afganistan...they are real heroes ...

John Adamowicz
John Adamowicz

The TALIBAN HAS AN OFFICE#@&$Y&@#$Y!&@$&!@$!?!?!!?!?!?!?!? SORRY CAPS BUT I CAN'T EXPRESS MY DISBELIEF.

Daniel Green
Daniel Green

I've seen that building before, I thought it was Oprah's summer home at one point in time

Otetsudai Shimashouka
Otetsudai Shimashouka

Is this a MAD Magazine feature - Taliban + peace = doomed..That should be the caption.

Vipul Tripathi
Vipul Tripathi

democracy.... look at guns & throw them away..start believing in people...people are the bosses...U Me & every body..power lies with every one ...go democratic.

Nazira Nh
Nazira Nh

On one hand the US is fighting the talibans in afghanistan and on the other hand they are negotiating with them and they are given nice headquater in QATAR backed and supported by saudi and pakistan.

Vipul Tripathi
Vipul Tripathi

we are a democracy buddy...that is the difference.....you being democracy is in Ur hands..all the best.

Phillip Blignaut
Phillip Blignaut

Pop in for a visit when Qatar host's 2018 Fifa World Cup!

Jaleed Ahmed Gilani
Jaleed Ahmed Gilani

Wow, ironic how you cry over terrorism , esp. with the Armed Forces Special Powers act you're using against the Kashmiris and the state terrorism. And yes, we're waiting, who burned the Samjhota Express?

Vipul Tripathi
Vipul Tripathi

No body is affected in this world as badly as India because of terrorism.What world has decided after 9/11 we were crying for it ever since 1989.

Art Mauney
Art Mauney

aww hell, Bush probably sold them the land

Lyle Scout
Lyle Scout

Nice building. Why hasn't the USA dropped a bomb on it.

Richard Wadsworth
Richard Wadsworth

I knew I should have been there. Sometimes it's best to let the boss handle these things.

Art Mauney
Art Mauney

Drone strike asap....The Vaticans next

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

Karzai should have built a strong government and security system instead of concentrating on who was going to give him the biggest bag of money.  He has only himself and his corrupt cohorts to thank.  Now, the US is pulling out and he is no closer to defeating the Taliban than he was when he came to power.  And he's going to blame the US.  He's done this to himself.  But, actually, he's done this to his own country. 

The Taliban will retake Afganistan when we leave and subject it's citizens to its brand of extreme Sharia law much to their detriment.  Karzai will be safe and sound in exile in another country with his bags of money.

captainjohann
captainjohann

This has shown the desperation of defeated US government to buy a fig leaf for withdrawal with ISI and Haqqani group support,At last Karzai has shown some guts. He must reach out to russia , china and Iran. India ofcourse is a lap dog of USA

Abusharif4
Abusharif4

@TIME @timeworldeven If the Taliban not excite any more Karzai's Govt won't be able to stand

Abusharif4
Abusharif4

@TIME @timeworldeven If the Taliban not Exocet any more Karzai Govt won't be able to stand

michael.f.passe
michael.f.passe

@dsouzajf @lisa_fletch Did you ever stop to think that perhaps some of these organizations (especially Hamas) might not BE "terrorists" if they had a legitimate political wing and a seat at the negotiating table? It has certainly happened before. The biggest problem is that so many people don't really want peace. They want to "win," and don't regard peace as "winning." Only power and domination "wins," and so we go on in the endless cycle of murder and retaliation.